Life in board­ing school was de­plorable

As a child, I loved ex­plor­ing

Arab Times - - WHAT'S ON -

This is the ninth in a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on the life story of Lidia Qat­tan, a writer, colum­nist and an artist.

– Ed­i­tor

was also gone.

When the po­lice came to in­ves­ti­gate, no trace was found of the an­i­mals, but soon af­ter when fa­ther dis­cov­ered that the bar­rel of petrol he kept filled to run the ma­chin­ery, was empty, he sus­pected the herds­man, be­cause only him­self and no one else ex­cept the herds­man knew where the bar­rel was kept.


In the af­ter­math of the great war petrol was a pre­cious com­mod­ity heav­ily ra­tioned.

Af­ter this in­ci­dent, even though fa­ther could not trust the man, he could not dis­miss him, be­cause he had been liv­ing in the farm with his fam­ily long be­fore fa­ther bought it. Hence as soon as he had a good of­fer, he sold the farm and bought an­other across the river Po in the prov­ince of Fer­rara, by then we chil­dren were sent to a board­ing school to con­tinue our ed­u­ca­tion.

In­deed, since our ar­rival to Bor­biago I was miss­ing school, the only one in the vil­lage was run by nuns of the lo­cal Par­ish in which I soon dis­cov­ered no one was teach­ing; we chil­dren were sim­ply left to play and that quickly bored me, so I stopped at­tend­ing.

Luigi on the other hand was hav­ing a great time work­ing with ma­chin­ery un­der the su­per­vi­sion of An­gelo, the full time me­chanic fa­ther hired to ser­vice the machines in the farm.

An­gelo was a quiet, lov­able man Luigi be­came very fond of be­cause he was al­low­ing to work with him.

From early child­hood Luigi was pas­sion­ate about machines, work­ing with An­gelo kept him busy for hours, but in the af­ter­math of the war fa­ther wanted Luigi to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion, so he en­rolled him in a tech­ni­cal col­lege where he learned to make spare parts for agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery.

But Luigi was miss­ing work­ing with An­gelo, so he dropped out of col­lege to be with him.

In the af­ter­math of the World War II the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in the coun­try was in chaos, the only al­ter­na­tive fa­ther thought of send­ing us to a board­ing school. For me and Maria he chose Santa Maria del Carmine in Venice, for Luigi he chose a board­ing school in Mestre, a town not far from Bor­biago.

From the mo­ment I stepped in­side the board­ing school I wanted to get out. Ac­cus­tomed to the great out­doors all my life, I was feel­ing suf­fo­cat­ing, I felt trapped like a lit­tle mouse in a tight place.

Mak­ing things worse the food which was de­plorable, I of­ten found dead lit­tle worms in the pasta. This dis­gusted me and though I was fam­ished at meal time I lost my ap­petite.

The only thing I could trust was bread, but it was too lit­tle to sat­isfy my hunger.

Con­stant hunger made me edgy. There was a cen­tral court­yard in the school where we girls were play­ing the same mo­not­o­nous games day-in day-out, this bored me to death .

Fam­ished and mis­er­able all the time I be­came re­bel­lious.

Two months later when fa­ther and mother came to see us, I was so skinny that my fa­ther got wor­ried. When he asked me about the food, I told him frankly what I thought of it un­mind­ful of the nuns in the room watch­ing us.

Be­fore leav­ing, fa­ther had a talk with Mother Su­pe­rior; on the next day he sent sacks of flour to in­crease the por­tion of bread for me and Maria. In­ci­den­tally af­ter that day my grade in be­hav­ior was kept low, hence I was not al­lowed to see my par­ents when­ever they came.

Only Maria could see them be­cause she was quiet and well be­haved, she had none of my rest­less spirit, hence she set­tled down al­most im­me­di­ately and ap­par­ently she was happy.

Be­cause of her calm, ami­able na­ture Maria was loved by the nuns, hence they of­ten took her out to see the city. They also gave her pocket money, which fa­ther left for us to buy what we needed: I never re­ceived a penny of that money.

To see or not to see my par­ents when they came to the school didn’t mat­ter to me, as long as I was al­lowed to have some of the cake they brought us.

Some­time I felt I didn’t love them; I be­came con­scious of this feel­ing when a cou­ple of Vene­tian no­bles came to our school to adopt one of the girls, Mar­i­uc­cia, whose mother was never heard of af­ter she left her.

The wo­man was from Fi­ume, an Ital­ian city in the re­gion of Venezia Gi­u­lia, which af­ter the World War II be­came part Yu­goslavia.

Af­ter two years wait­ing, fail­ing to trace the mother the nuns gave up hope she would ever re­turn.

The child was con­stantly cry­ing and ask­ing for her mother, so, the nuns thought to give her a new home, a new mom and dad who would give her love and a fu­ture.

The cou­ple had no chil­dren, when they saw the girl they wanted her, but Mar­i­uc­cia only wanted her mother.

I was eight years old at that time eas­ily at­tracted by ap­pear­ance, hence I could not un­der­stand why that girl was re­fus­ing to live with that nice cou­ple.

If the same of­fer was given to me, I would not had hes­i­tated a sec­ond, all I wanted was to leave that hor­ri­ble place and live with some­one who loved me.


Chil­dren be­come at­tached to those who make them feel loved and cher­ished. In my child­hood I didn’t feel that from my par­ents, though, when I grew up I knew they must have loved me.

All the years I spent in Venice I hardly had the chance of see­ing the city. On rare oc­ca­sions I went out, was on the day I was taken with the other girls to see a movie. It was the first one I ever saw in my life, hence I was im­pressed with the nov­elty. The film was called “The Great Ad­ven­ture,” it was an or­di­nary cow­boy story, but to me it was a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence.

The other time I was taken with other girls on a field trip was to the is­land of Ma­malocco, one of the many lit­tle is­lands near Venice, which dur­ing the World War II was a Ger­man mil­i­tary strong­hold.

The bunkers built at strate­gic points on the is­land were still as the Ger­man left them at the time I went there.

I loved the ex­plor­ing, but my fun was spoiled by hunger. Though the other girls were hav­ing food, I never knew why I alone was given noth­ing to eat, to even given some money to buy food from the lo­cal can­teen.

To be con­tin­ued

Lidia Qat­tan

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